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Keys for Being a Successful Male Role Model or Mentor

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Boy and Coach
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My first real exposure to working with a young man without a father happened in the Scouting program. I was an assistant Scoutmaster and one of the boys in my troop had not had a father since he was born. Fortunately, this young man had an amazing mom who had taught him well, but he had not had the benefit of having strong male role models in his life.

The experience was a positive one for me and for the other adult scouters in the program. As we taught him the values of Scouting, helped him experience the outdoors and to learn to positively interact with other young men at scout camp and in other settings, he seemed to really enjoy the interactions with the other boys and men. And I like to think that we influenced him for good and let him see and experience what it meant to be a good and responsible man and father.

Many men will find themselves in a situation where they can be a positive male influence in the life of a child or a young person without a father in the home. Many of these children will have fathers not living at home who still work hard to coparent them, but many others will have no father influence at all or will have a father who is a bad influence for one of many reasons. If the influence of a father is non-existent or negative, positive male role models are important to help the child learn how responsible men think, behave and react in real life situations.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you can have a positive impact in the life of a young person without a good father influence, here are some things that you should consider as you undertake this important role.

Don't try to replace the father. In many situations, you may find that a father is present, but just too infrequently to have a good influence. Remember that you are not the father; you are rather a friend and a mentor. And don't speak badly about the child's father; children still feel a natural affinity for their father. Just let your good example speak volumes about how a man should act. You can and should, however, warn the child about lifestyle choices like drugs, gangs or abuse in which the father might be involved.

Learn the child's interests and goals. As you begin to interact with the child, find out about what makes him tick. What are the things that he enjoys doing after school? Who are his friends? What would he like to be when he grows up? Learning more about the child's life and interests will help you connect better with him and have better opportunities to influence him for good.

Focus on developing good habits and structure. One of the things that seems to create problems with children with only one parent is the lack of structure. Developing good habits and regular structure can be a real help to children without a good male role model. Encouraging them to have and do chores at home, to undertake homework right after school in a quiet spot, and to come to events and commitments on time can help them feel the comfort and security that greater structure can bring.

Coordinate with the mother or guardian. While having a male role model can really help a single mom and her family (or other guardian like a foster parent or grandparent), it can also cause some stress in the home if there is not good coordination and cooperation. Find out from the parent or guardian what they see as the most important needs of the child and the family and learn what you can do best to be supportive. A concerted effort on the part of both the mentor and the parent is the best way to have a good and lasting positive influence.

Be consistent and predictable. Often the youth with whom we hope to work as a mentor or good role model have struggled with adults in their lives who have been inconsistent or unreliable. If we hope to be a good role model, we have to make and keep promises with our young people. If you make a commitment to come to an event, make sure you keep your commitment. Your dependability will teach the importance of being consistent and reliable, and it will also help build a relationship of trust.

Listen first before offering advice. Sometimes the daily lives of our young people are much different than we have experienced. So, as you develop the relationship with your young person, spend a lot of time up front listening. Listening with all of your attention (mind, heart and body) will help them feel valued and will build the relationship. Get the whole picture before you begin to dive in with advice or direction.

Praise and celebrate whenever possible. The young people we work with have often struggled in environments where there is a lot of criticism or demeaning. One of the best things we can do to build trust is to praise and recognize accomplishments. Little rewards like candy bars, a book or a blue ribbon can make a big difference.

Being a role model or mentor for a child without a good father influence is a big job; there is a lot riding on our efforts for a young person in this situation. Setting a good example, being consistent and caring and coordinating efforts with parents and other can build a good relationship and help the young people develop healthy attitudes and positive behaviors that they might not get without our involvement.

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